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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

CAIRO — In the first such verdict under Egypt’s new president, a criminal court on Wednesday handed down a 15-year prison sentence against one of the leading figures of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The heavy jail term for activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was arrested in November on charges that included violating a tough anti-protest law, appeared to bode ill for any easing of a wide-ranging crackdown on political dissent over the last 11 months in Egypt.

Two dozen others on trial along with Abdel Fattah also received 15-year terms and fines of nearly $14,000 each, making it the latest instance of a mass sentencing by an Egyptian court. International rights groups and legal advocacy organizations have said any semblance of due process is unlikely to occur in tribunals and verdicts involving dozens or even hundreds of defendants at once.

During the Tahrir Square uprising more than three years ago, the 32-year-old Abdel Fattah became internationally known as one of the young and social-media savvy faces of the pro-democracy movement. He comes from a family of prominent activists; his father is a distinguished human rights lawyer jailed under Mubarak, and his aunt is the novelist Adhaf Soueif, whose works have been translated into many languages. Abdel Fattah’s wife and sister are also well-known activists.

Abdel Fattah had been freed in March after being held for nearly four months. He was re-arrested immediately after Wednesday’s sentencing, for which he was not allowed into the courtroom.

The co-defendants in his case were among the first to be prosecuted under a law enacted in November, which criminalized street protests unless sanctioned by the government. Other charges levied against Abdel Fattah included assaulting a police officer. His backers say video evidence does not support that claim.

Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah Sisi, took office on Sunday with pledges of political inclusiveness for all but those who advocate or commit violence. The interim administration that assumed power last July — in which Sisi, as defense minister, served as Egypt’s de facto leader — jailed thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood of toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, together with much smaller numbers of liberal secular activists.

Egyptian authorities say there are no political prisoners in the country, a claim dismissed by rights groups. This week, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International jointly declared that Sisi was taking office amid “a human rights crisis as dire as any period in the country’s modern history,” and urged him to implement swift reforms.

The rights groups cited ongoing abuses, including use of excessive force by police and soldiers, mass arrests and torture, and sharply curtailed freedom of speech and assembly.

AFP Photo

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.